No. 1 Goes Down, So Now What?

Jaylen Brown of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) is proving he's worthy of mention among the nation's very best players. Photo: Vernon Bryant/adidas

Jaylen Brown of Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.) is proving he’s worthy of mention among the nation’s very best players. Photo: Vernon Bryant/adidas

Grassroots Hoops FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) goes down in the championship game of the City of Palms Classic, preventing a third consecutive title for the Eagles and shaking up the national rankings. So what does the loss mean? Who is No. 1 now? What does the loss mean for the rest of the season?

As the early season has played out, there have been four players whom national scouts and media have singled out as clearly a cut above the rest — Mr. Basketball USA front-runner Ben Simmons of FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.), 6-foot-10 sophomore DeAndre Ayton of Balboa City School (San Diego, Calif.), 6-foot-8 junior Josh Jackson of Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) and 6-foot-9 Harry Giles of FAB 50 No. 19 Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.). Ayton and Jackson don’t play for FAB 50-ranked eligible schools and Simmons and Giles don’t play for traditional public high schools.

That’s the reality of elite high school basketball today.

There’s one player who’s been itching to be mentioned among that quartet who does play for a traditional public school — 6-foot-7 Jaylen Brown of FAB 50 No. 7 Wheeler (Marietta, Ga.). Brown got his opportunity at the City of Palms Classic in Ft. Myers, Fla., and he made the most of it, leading Wheeler to the prestigious tournament title with a 68-63 victory over Montverde Academy.

Simmons missed a lay-up that would have tied the title game at 61-61 and from there Wheeler went on a 5-0 run to take control. It was a free throw contest after that and the No. 7 ranked Wildcats hung on. Brown fouled out with just over a minute remaining, but he made a statement with 25 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 2-of-2 3-pointers and 11-of-13 free throws, 12 rebounds, six assists. The nation’s No. 1 ranked player in the 2015 class by Scout.com actually played well throughout the tournament, earning MVP honors and putting himself in the conversation to make that quartet the top starting five of high school basketball.

Many thought Wesleyan Christian would make the final opposite Montverde Academy, but WCA, ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, fell in the semifinals to Wheeler, 76-70. WCA’s Michael Buckland missed two free throws with his team down a point with 1:16 remaining after he made a big 3-pointer, while Wheeler hit its free throws down the stretch. Brown made all 13 of his free throw attempts and finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.

Montverde Academy got by No. 17 Trinity (Louisville, Ky.) in the semifinals, 52-42, as a 14-5 third quarter run sparked the victory. Simmons finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks, but it was his quarterfinal performance in a 60-57 victory over St. Francis (Alpharetta, Ga.) that had everyone talking. Simmons’ 37-point, 18-rebound, two-assist performance was so spectacular Clark Francis of the Hoop Scoop (whose been going to the COP regularly for the past 25 years) rates it among the top 10 individual single-game performances he’s seen in a high school setting (more on that later).

Still unbeaten Wheeler defeated No. 30 Paul VI (Fairfax, Va.) in its quarterfinal contest, 55-52, as Brown, still uncommitted and unsigned, finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.

Montverde Lost, So Who’s No. 1 Now?

It’s ironic Wheeler is in the conversation for the No. 1 FAB 50 national ranking because former Wildcat 6-foot-10 center Daniel Giddens plays for the team that has the strongest argument besides Wheeler — current No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.).

Burning questions 150Steve Smith’s club is currently 21-0 after defeating No. 9 Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland, Calif.) 58-49 in the championship game of the Iolani Tournament in Hawaii. Wheeler’s run through the City of Palms is enough for them to hop current No. 3 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.), which hasn’t yet hit the meat of its schedule, but Oak Hill Academy has played enough games and enough competition to warrant the No. 1 ranking ahead of Wheeler and anyone else right now.

Wheeler was No. 11 in the preseason FAB 50, but would have been in the top six had Giddens stayed in Georgia. Veteran coach Doug Lipscomb has done an excellent job blending in his newcomers around Brown, who began the season No. 2 in the Mr. Basketball USA Tracker behind Simmons.

Oak Hill Academy, which is off for the rest of the calendar year, might actually run into Bishop O’Dowd again next month at the Bass Pro Shops Tournament of Champions in Missouri. Wheeler won’t have much rest at all this holiday season as it heads for the Les Schwab Invitational in Oregon the day after Christmas — where a potential rematch with Montverde Academy awaits.

Montverde Academy and Wheeler are on opposite sides of the bracket and it looks like Eagles will face a bit more resistance on the road to a titanic rematch in the LSI title game. Montverde Academy potentially will face No. 26 Rainier Beach in the semifinals.

The past two seasons, Montverde Academy has finished No. 1 in the FAB 50 with on-court losses. The last team to participate in the Dick’s Nationals Tournament (previously NHSI) at the end of the season and finish with an unbeaten record was 33-0 Findlay Prep (Henderson, Nev.) at the conclusion of the 2008-09 season.

Of course, a team doesn’t have to participate in Dick’s Nationals to finish No. 1, but since there is now a big showcase or tournament every weekend of the season until various state playoffs begin, it’s getting harder and harder for an unbeaten club to finish No. 1 in the country because so many of the top teams battle on the court.

Competition is a good thing and Wheeler vs. Montverde Academy Part II would be one of many big-time match ups that can shake up the rankings in the weeks to come. Keep in mind, Oak Hill Academy has yet to win Dick’s Nationals so the race for No. 1 is likely far from over.

Redondo Union Wins Tarkanian Classic

Similar to Wheeler, Redondo Union (Redondo Beach, Calif.) is coming off a big tournament win, but will have to prove themselves again right after Christmas. Last Saturday, the Sea Hawks knocked off No. 33 Putnam City West (Putnam City, Okla.) 66-51 in the title game of the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas.

Putnam City West looked excellent in its three victories that advanced the Patriots to the title game, but Redondo’s relentless pressure defense slowed down PCW and was the key to victory.

Junior guard Leland Green capped an excellent tournament with 14 points, five rebounds and five steals. Many times statistics don’t do Green justice, as he relentlessly attacks the basket offensively, rebounds hard and plays excellent pressure defense on the perimeter. He was named co-MOP of the tourney along with sophomore teammate Billy Preston. The 6-foot-9 versatile forward finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots.

In the semifinals, Redondo Union knocked off No. 12 Centennial (Calif.) from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 55-54 win at the Orleans Arena. Putnam City West defeated host Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) in overtime on a dramatic lay-up by sophomore Nick Robinson.

Centennial fell to Bishop Gorman in the third place 71-51 in a game that got away from the Huskies in the final minutes.

Centennial will look to potentially get another shot at Redondo Union at the Under Armour Holiday Classic in Del Mar, Calif., beginning the day after Christmas. Centennial is FAB 50 caliber (as is Bishop Gorman despite a hard-to-explain loss to Jesuit of Carmichael, Calif.), so if Redondo Union can win its second consecutive tourney title they’ll jump right back in the FAB 50.

Redondo Union was No. 40 in the preseason — one spot behind Putnam City West.

Ronnie Flores is the Publisher and Editor of GrassrootsHoops.net. He can be reached at ronlocc1977@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


One Trackback

  1. By Updated FAB 50 National Rankings on January 5, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    […] two-time defending FAB 50 national champ Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) losing in the title game of the City of Palms Tournament, previous No. 1 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) takes over the top spot. The Warriors have […]

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